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Chapter 17: The social fund
This chapter covers:
1. What is the social fund (here)
2. Sure Start maternity grants (here)
3. Funeral expenses payments (here)
4. Budgeting loans (here)
5. Local welfare assistance schemes (here)
6. Challenging a decision (here)
Basic facts
– To get help from the social fund, you must receive income support or another qualifying benefit.
– Most students do not qualify for help from the social fund because they do not get a qualifying benefit.
- Support may be available from local assistance schemes in some circumstances.
1. What is the social fund
The social fund consists of regulated payments and budgeting loans.
Regulated social fund payments are:
Sure Start maternity grants;
funeral payments;
cold weather payments;
winter fuel payments.
You are entitled to regulated social fund payments if you satisfy the qualifying conditions. For more information on cold weather payments and winter fuel payments, see CPAG’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook.
2. Sure Start maternity grants
A Sure Start maternity grant is a grant of £500 to help with the costs of a new baby (multiple payments may be made if you are expecting more than one child). You are usually only eligible if there is no child under 16 in the household already, though if you are expecting multiple children, you may get some payment. To qualify you must get:
income support; or
income-based jobseeker’s allowance; or
income-related employment and support allowance; or
pension credit; or
child tax credit; or
working tax credit including a disability or severe disability element; or
universal credit.
You can also claim if you adopt a child under 12 months. Claim at the local Jobcentre Plus office on Form SF100 up to 11 weeks before the birth or within six months of the birth. If you are waiting to hear about a claim for one of the qualifying benefits, make sure to claim the maternity grant within the deadline. Your entitlement is then protected and the grant can be awarded once the benefit decision is made, although you may need to fill in a second SF100.
3. Funeral expenses payments
A funeral expenses payment is made to help with burial or cremation costs. To qualify you must get:
income support; or
income-based jobseeker’s allowance; or
income-related employment and support allowance; or
pension credit; or
housing benefit; or
child tax credit; or
working tax credit including a disability or severe disability element; or
universal credit.
Unless you are the partner of the person who dies, you may not get a payment if there is a close relative who does not get one of these benefits.
Claim at the local Jobcentre Plus office on Form SF200 within six months of the funeral.
4. Budgeting loans
You can get a budgeting loan to help you pay for certain items – eg, furniture, clothes, removal expenses, rent in advance, home improvements, travelling expenses, maternity expenses, funeral expenses and jobseeking expenses. If
you are claiming universal credit, you must apply for a budgeting advance instead of a budgeting loan (see here).
The amount of budgeting loan you can get depends on the size of your family and how long you have been on benefit. To qualify, you must have been getting one of the following for at least 26 weeks before your claim is decided:
income support;
income-based jobseeker’s allowance;
income-related employment and support allowance; or
pension credit.
See CPAG’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook for details of who can get a loan and how to apply.
5. Local welfare assistance schemes
The social fund previously included discretionary hardship elements (known as community care grants and crisis loans). These have been replaced by local schemes. The nature of the replacement varies depending on where you live.
Local provision in England
Local authorities in England are now responsible for providing replacement schemes for community care grants and crisis loans. Schemes vary, so contact your local authority for details of its scheme. Although students are not excluded from applying to these schemes as a general rule, they may be excluded from individual schemes. In any case, your local authority will usually expect you to first claim assistance from your university’s or college’s hardship fund, if this is available. Funding is, in general, likely to be limited.
Discretionary Assistance Fund in Wales
The Welsh government has set up a national scheme to replace social fund community care grants and crisis loans in Wales, called the Discretionary Assistance Fund.
The Fund consists of ‘individual assistance payments’ to help people remain in or establish themselves in the community, and ‘emergency assistance payments’ for people without money because of a disaster or emergency. To qualify for an individual assistance payment, you must usually be getting a qualifying benefit (income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, pension credit or universal credit).
Students on a qualifying benefit are eligible for individual assistance payments if they meet the other criteria, but you are expected to apply to your college’s or university’s discretionary fund first.
More information on the Fund, and how to apply, is at gov.wales/discretionary-assistance-fund-daf.
Discretionary support in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland the discretionary scheme is called Finance Support. It offers help to people experiencing a crisis which puts their or their immediate family’s health, safety or wellbeing at significant risk. Support is in the form of a loan or grant, depending on the circumstances. For more details, see nidirect.gov.uk/articles/introduction-finance-support.
6. Challenging a decision
If you think a decision about your maternity grant or funeral payment is wrong, you can ask the DWP to look at it again. This process is known as a ‘reconsideration’ (the law refers to it as a ‘revision’). Provided you ask within the time limit (usually one month), the DWP notifies you of the decision in a ‘mandatory reconsideration notice’. If you are still not happy when you get this notice, you can appeal to the independent First-tier Tribunal. If it was not possible to ask the DWP to reconsider the decision within a month, you can ask for a late revision (within 13 months), explaining why it is late. You can also ask the DWP to look at a decision again at any time if certain grounds are met – eg, if there has been an official error.
You can ask for a review of a budgeting loan decision within 28 days of the day the decision was issued to you (or sometimes later, if you have special reasons or if there is a mistake in the decision about the law or the facts of your case).
For local schemes, rules will vary – check with the scheme concerned.

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